Noel Ignatiev's Blog

Memoir of an Ex-Jew 11: The Last Installment

What about anti-Semitism? Whoever asserted that U.S. foreign policy toward an entire region of the world was decisively shaped, against rational imperialist interests (let alone the needs of working people), by a well-funded and well-organized lobby based on a small ethnic group that wields political influence far out of proportion to its numbers and is sentimentally attached to one of the regimes in the region would immediately be accused of anti-Semitism—unless he was talking about the Caribbean and the Cuban exile community, in which case people could have a reasonable discussion examining the various forces that determine official policy. Yet in the case of “Israel” that discussion is forbidden in what are called progressive circles. The anti-war movement publishes flyers and holds rallies opposing U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, without mentioning the elephant in the room, the Israel Lobby, and whoever tries to raise it is hushed up. (The situation has improved since the Meersheimer/Walt article and book.)

“Jews for Peace,” “Jews Against the Occupation,” etc. hope to deflect the charge of anti-Semitism normally directed at opponents of Zionist policy. They are wrong, for several reasons: 1) They undermine the principle of universality that should reign within all movements for justice, reinforcing the idea that “Jews” have a special right to speak out on “Jewish” issues and devaluing the opinions of people who happen not to be Jews; 2) They do not achieve their aim: Zionists simply dismiss them as “self-hating Jews.”

Instead of adopting a defensive posture, the opponents of Zionism, or even this or that Zionist policy, should take to heart the conviction that it is not they who need to apologize but the defenders of the criminal Zionist regime.

I dislike using the term anti-Semitism to mean animosity toward Jews, for several reasons: 1) Jews are not the only Semites, and the majority of Jews in the world are not of Semitic origin;[1] 2) it has come to mean anything from opposition to a Jewish State to an aversion to chicken soup to a desire to send millions to death camps;[2] 3) most important, if all that is involved is a personal distaste for Jews, then what is the need for a special term? There is no special term for dislike of Irish, or Poles, or Catholics, or any other group, so why for Jews?[3]

By themselves, generalizations about Jewish behavior are no more significant than generalizations about Chinese love of gambling or Irish fondness for drink. I have already said that I do not view discussions of the power of American Jews as objectionable on their face. I also do not object to questioning official accounts of the extermination of European Jewry during World War II (an expression I favor over “Holocaust” because it suggests an event with historic causes rather than a natural phenomenon beyond explanation), any more than I object to investigating the European trade in African slaves.

Political anti-Semitism is a theory of history, identifying the Jews (or the “Jewish spirit”) as the source of the world’s ills.[4] Some adopt it out of a wish to put a face on the enemy. They are mistaken. The ills of the world are at bottom attributable to the capitalist system. Capital is impersonal; in his social function the capitalist is merely the personification of capital. To attempt to put a face on it leads to madness, as it did Captain Ahab:

The White Whale swam before him as the monomaniac incarnation of all those malicious agencies which some deep men feel eating in them… All evil, to crazy Ahab, [was] visibly personified, and made practically assailable in Moby-Dick. He piled upon the whale’s white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart’s shell upon it.

The extent of the historic tie between Jews and the capitalist system in parts of Europe has astonished me.[5] But targeting elite groups, whether bankers, Jews, Masons, the Illuminati, the Gnomes of Zurich or the Trilateral Commission, as self-acting outside of time and place is misleading and can be dangerous. The capitalist system is not a capitalist plot but the world we live in and reproduce daily. Even if every capitalist were a Jew and every Jew a capitalist, I would still be anti-capitalist rather than anti-Jew, because the capitalist system is the illness and Jews are at most prominent among its carriers.

Send comments to [email protected]. Indicate if they are intended for publication.

[1] See Sand, op cit 210-49.

[2] Webster’s Third International Dictionary gives as one of the definitions of anti-Semitism “opposition to a Jewish state.” Perhaps it was written by the same people who tried to have my entry on Zionism expunged from the Macmillan Encyclopedia of Race and Racism.

[3] The call for a special term for Jew-hating reminds me of “hate-crime” legislation: every time an outrage occurs against a member of a minority group the liberals demand new laws against “hate crimes,” as if there did not already exist laws against murder and assault.

[4] Theories attributing the distinctive qualities of Jews to their genes have largely disappeared. Biological race theory today is more likely to be directed at dark-skinned people, the so-called mud races, than at Jews.

[5] There have been a number of studies of this. One of the best is Albert S. Lindemann, Esau’s Tears: Modern Anti-Semitism and the Rise of the Jews.

Back to Noel Ignatiev’s Author Page